Early Learning | Society

Monday is for maths, Friday for farming. Meet the homeschoolers

Photo: Getty Images/ iStock

Photo: Getty Images/ iStock  

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These families believe homeschooling can rescue children from the drudgery of all-work and no-play school routines

It is a Friday morning and nine-year-old Vibhuram is in the garden, shovel in hand, removing weeds and gravel. After he is done with that, he moves on to stacking tiles to make a hedge around his avocado, hibiscus and rose plants.

Why isn’t Vibhuram at school? Because he is being homeschooled or ‘unschooled’, as his parents prefer to call it, and today is gardening day. He follows a rigorous routine at his home in Bengaluru: on any given day, he can either choose to learn the concepts of different subjects or pick up a life skill. Today, after gardening, he will play basketball; then he will settle down to read a book and later research some topics on his father’s laptop.

Vibhuram’s parents, Priyaram B.K., a software engineer, and Sriraksha Priyaram, a professional singer, decided to pull him out of school at the end of Class III. Says Priyaram, “My son is very bright but his teachers wanted to mould him to suit their vision. Teachers are usually in a hurry to complete the curriculum rather than help the child understand concepts. They, of course, have their limitations, but we did not want our son to be a scapegoat in the process.” The couple was also uncomfortable with the large amounts of homework and the many tests that Vibhuram had to prepare for. There was no time for him to read beyond the syllabus.

No looking back

It’s been six months since they began homeschooling Vibhuram, and there’s no looking back. They did have a lot of initial apprehensions, but after they spoke with their families, many of whom are teachers, and other parents who homeschooled their children, they were reassured.

The couple also did a lot of rigorous research about educational aids they could use. They have borrowed the broad syllabus from the State board, the Central Board of Secondary Education, and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations. “We give him the concepts,” says Priyaram, “he researches them and then explains the concepts to us or writes a report.” The concepts the boy learns are not limited to what’s considered ‘age appropriate’ and goes beyond what the textbooks prescribe. Right now, Vibhuram is learning about light, fractions and decimals.

While Vibhuram follows a template, he also has the freedom to learn what he wants. His parents teach him mathematics problems using day-to-day situations: how he splits pocket money, for example. And they are thrilled with the results.

Vibhuram now reads and writes Kannada, thanks to a week-long stay with his grandparents. He has time to pursue other interests such as birdwatching, basketball, farming and Kalaripayattu. Vibhuram plans to learn French next, and wants to play the piano.

Vibhuram studies with his mother.

Vibhuram studies with his mother.   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K.

Freedom to choose

The Priyarams are part of a growing community of families who opt to homeschool their children, or are curious about the concept and are weighing the pros and cons. On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon, a dozen or so families have gathered at Cubbon Park, Bengaluru’s largest lung space. No, this is not a picnic, but a meeting where parents who homeschool their children exchange notes, best practices and discuss concerns. The children are here too, and have set up stalls, with games or goodies they’ve baked, others are immersed in activities. In another corner of the park, children and adults are learning yoga.

Supriya Narang, who homeschools her six-year-old, organised the meet. She says the idea is both to ensure that the children get to interact with other children and to address the concerns of parents who are on this journey.

Maya Haridas, 12, is a homeschooler and busy managing two game stalls. She grabs a cupcake baked by another child and says that she likes homeschooling because she is more “free” to choose and do the things she is interested in. Maya’s day is packed. She begins the day with reading, and then practises the harmonium or tabla till lunch break. In the afternoon she works on crafts or paints, and then in the evening it’s time to play with her friends before calling it a day. She also manages to pack in jazz, ballet and Hindustani music classes during the week.

Does she miss school? Or all the subjects her peers study? Maya says she knows how to solve real-life mathematics problems as long as they are not on a sheet of paper. Maya’s father, Haridas B., a freelance graphic designer, is busy answering queries on homeschooling from the parents of a two-year-old. The decision to homeschool was very organic, he says, beginning when his wife got pregnant. They didn’t like the innumerable tests and so “we packed our bags and went to Goa and my wife delivered our daughter with the help of a midwife in a beautiful house with candles all around,” he says. Soon after, they began debating everything, including whether their daughter should go to school.

Haridas says the process of homeschooling involves a lot of hard work, patience and sacrifices, and might not work for everyone. “Both parents need to be involved,” he says.

Homeschoolers meet up in a Bengaluru park.

Homeschoolers meet up in a Bengaluru park.   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

New paradigms

Venita Coelho, a Goa-based writer and parent, homeschooled her daughter for five years. She says many parents who are tired of the traditional system are looking for a new paradigm, where success stories can be college drop-outs, “which gives parents the courage to homeschool their children. A lot of millionaires are drop-outs after all,” she points out.

Over the past few years, several parents have formed forums to share strategies and learnings with other parents. Sandhya Viswan, who has been homeschooling for 10 years, started a community called Homeschoolers’ Nook in 2015. Their Facebook group has nearly 3,000 members. Viswan says there are at least four informal co-ops across the city, many of which meet every week, to share experiences, plan play-dates and field trips. “While these interactions help younger children to socialise, the older children get mentors. Parents strong in specific subjects facilitate the classes for the group,” she said.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all and there is no tried and tested method. Parents, however, get some hand-holding and insights into what they can do,” Viswan says. According to her, there are more people homeschooling their children than ever before, with the concept’s acceptance growing over the years.

But Viswan is equally clear that there’s no need to put down regular schooling. “People who want homeschooling should have good enough reasons for it,” she says. For instance, although she decided to homeschool her older son Pranavswaroop in 2009 because he was musically gifted and needed time to pursue it, both her sons attended regular school for a few years as well.

On their terms

How does homeschooling work out for children eventually? Asawari Mathur, 20, is an entrepreneur who recently launched a range of natural personal care products. She was homeschooled from Class V. Mathur says she chose not to sit her Class X and XII exams under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and instead pursued a self-directed course at Swaraj University in Rajasthan.

“Self-directed is a rollercoaster, and there are a lot of challenges, but at the end I feel great to be living life on my terms,” she says. Many homeschooled students do sit the NIOS exams and later get into universities. But many others focus on dance or music, and study for diplomas in such subjects of their choice.

Five years ago Gowthami Saraf, a child psychologist, decided to homeschool her daughter who was then in Class VI. Her daughter felt restricted and bogged down by the schooling system, says Saraf. “There were so many things that my child wanted to do but couldn’t in the school environment. The examination system was stressful and the disciplinary methods harsh.”

Although she and her husband, a business mentor, have busy schedules, they have tweaked their timings so that one of them can be home with the children, whose academic schedule is planned for a five-day week, with weekly or monthly tests. This gives her daughter ample time for swimming, tennis, horse-riding and music classes, and she has picked up several life skills through homeschooling, says her mother.

Social interaction

Manju Balasubramanyam, principal, Delhi Public School, Bangalore North believes that some parents make a conscious choice to raise their children in a non-competitive environment. “Those who want to homeschool their children take the decision after a good amount of consideration. But it is important for them to acknowledge that this form of education would mean lesser social interaction. With the rise in nuclear families, school becomes the place where children learn to cope and be tolerant of others,” she says. However, Balasubramanyam agrees that she has observed many homeschooled children grow up into confident young people. “Parents need to make sure they are given opportunities to interact with the world.”

Homeschooling isn’t always sustainable, though, and some parents are looking for other ways. Coelho, who initially homeschooled her daughter, has now started her own school this June. “I wanted my daughter to be able to prepare for the IGCSE exams; I did not want to close her options. She also needed socialisation,” says Coelho.

Venita Coelho’s school in Goa.

Venita Coelho’s school in Goa.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The other side

Some experts are not entirely convinced. Says Niranjanaradhya.V.P., fellow at the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, “The very purpose of education is to ensure that children socialise. The school system is very enabling and brings students across castes and creeds together. Besides, various studies have found that learning in a peer group is very effective.”

K. John Vijay Sagar, professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, also warns parents that if they want to adopt this approach, “they should ensure that they give considerable time to the children.” There is very little literature or research done on this from a child’s point of view, he says. “While the advantages may include helping the child learn at his or her own pace and avoid bullying, we must not forget that the purpose of schooling, besides academic learning, is also to help in the development of a child’s socio-emotional development,” he says.

A question Haridas is often asked at parent meetings in Cubbon Park is: how will homeschooling help children cope with the real world? To this, he offers a counter question: “Why should children do something they are not happy doing?”

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 8:19:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/monday-is-for-maths-friday-for-farming-meet-the-homeschoolers/article29733298.ece

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